how small acts of nourishment make a huge difference

Tuesdays used to be my least favorite day of the week. They are my long days. On Tuesday, I have back-to-back {to-back-to-back} tutoring sessions with students. I leave the apartment at 2pm and don’t get home until after 10pm. Teaching individual writing sessions is an intensive process, which is a great thing—it’s why they are so effective! Thanks to the one-on-one guidance I am able to give my students, they improve so much, so quickly—in skill level as well as confidence. Their progress truly amazes me.

However, this intensity can also make teaching these sessions draining. I am an actress and my stage is the dining room table, seated across from a child or teenager armed with a pencil and a sheet of lined paper. Like an actress summoning every ounce of energy for each performance, I must bring “my all” to each class. Because not only is every student different—each and every session is different. Sometimes the students are wound up from a crazy day at school or a sugar-filled after-school snack. Sometimes they are grumpy from an argument with a friend at recess; other times they are down about a bad test grade they received back in class that day. If I’m not on my “A” game, our lesson will inevitably falter, the student descending into writer’s block or unfocused distraction. I need to read my students’ moods, and coax or prod them accordingly, in order to facilitate the greatest learning for each and every session we have together.

Thankfully, I do have a little break in the middle of my long day, from about 5:30-7pm. I used to fritter away this time with more “busywork” like email and housekeeping tasks. I would drive to a Peet’s coffeeshop, grab a muffin or scone as a snack to take the edge off my hunger, and open my tablet to my email inbox. Then I would spend that hour and a half attempting to whittle down my always-overflowing inbox.

Not surprisingly, when my break ended and it was time to head out for the remainder of my sessions with students, I would usually feel even more tired than I had been before my break began. It was getting late. I was hungry. I was exhausted. I would sometimes even feel a little resentful of my students, wishing that I could just head home instead. I would try to summon my best self for those evening sessions, but even though they went well, I would feel like I was using every ounce of my energy to stay positive and focused.

Some people dread Mondays. I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to dread any day of the week, because that means you are dreading 1/7th of your life. I love the weekend, but I’ve never really had a problem with Mondays. {Plus right now, during this season of my life, my favorite yoga class is on Monday mornings!} But… I was starting to kind of dread Tuesdays. I felt like I had to gear up for Tuesday each week. It was this mountain in the middle of my week that I had to climb. I didn’t like the feeling, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I love my students, and they have very busy schedules. {Seriously—they are like mini CEOs!} These were the time blocks that worked for their schedules, and I didn’t want to cancel my lessons with them. I told myself to just “suck it up” and deal with it.

My first internal shift happened thanks to, of all things, a yeast infection. My doctor advised me to avoid sugar as much as possible while my body was healing, because yeast feeds off sugar. So, that week, instead of settling for my usual sugar-laden muffin at Peet’s, I took 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon before I left to chop up some of my favorite veggies: snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber. I took these along with me in a Tupperware, and snacked on them as I checked my email during my break.

I noticed I felt better that evening. I had more energy and I didn’t feel hungry. It felt more like I’d had a real meal—an actual dinner, a salad just without the lettuce.

So, the next week, I packed myself some veggies again. I added an apple and some nuts for good measure. It became a new part of my Tuesday routine.

My next internal shift came with the Daylight Savings Time shift. Suddenly, it remained light out later. The weather began to warm up. Springtime was on the horizon. I was itching to spend more time outside, rather than cooped up indoors all day. Driving to Peets one Tuesday, I noticed a huge grassy sports park on my route. A thought struck: I want to go for a walk there.

So that’s exactly what I did. I pulled into the sports park. I took a walk. I breathed in the fresh air. I waved hello to other walkers and joggers. I felt… peaceful. Like I was able to press “pause” on my busy day and just be here in my body for a little while. After half an hour, I drove the rest of the way to Peet’s, where I ate my veggies and checked email. When it was time for me to head out for the rest of my student sessions, I felt even more refreshed than usual.

{spring tree from my Tuesday walk at the park}

So the next week, I took another walk. This time, I called my brother as I was walking. He’s on New York time, so I usually wasn’t able to chat with him on Tuesdays because I got home so late and our schedules were “out of sync.” It was so nice to check in and hear his voice.

Just like that, walking for 30 minutes became another part of my Tuesday break time routine. I began to look forward to it. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or chat with someone on the phone. Other times I walk in silence, listening to my own thoughts. I noticed that I began to get a lot of ideas during this time.

My final internal shift came about a month ago, when I sat down at Peet’s after my walk, and my head was filled with an idea for a blog post. So, instead of spending 45 minutes mindlessly checking my email, I didn’t even connect to the free Wi-fi. I opened a blank Word document and began typing.

That night, when I went to my sessions with students, I felt downright cheerful. I felt energized. After all, I always extolled the importance of writing and expressing themselves. Now I was practicing what I preached. I had just written something that mattered to me, and I was filled with the power that comes with putting your complicated jumble of thoughts down in steady, streamlined words.

Soon, I found myself looking forward to Tuesdays. That’s right—what used to be a day I dreaded is now a day I genuinely enjoy.

The crazy thing is, none of my responsibilities on this day have changed. I am still gone from 2pm to 10pm. I still have back-to-back intense sessions with students that can be emotionally and mentally draining. I still need to give my all up there “onstage.”

But, even with the challenges, I find my work fulfilling. I lost sight of that a little bit when I was so exhausted before.

The difference is that now, I’ve given myself some “me” time in the midst of my busy day. I nourish myself with self-care—literally with healthy food, physically with fresh air and exercise, and emotionally with connection, inspiration, and creative time. And, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some free-writing:

  • Where can you find pockets of time for yourself in the midst of busy-ness?
  • What small changes can you make to your least favorite day, to turn it into a better day? {Maybe even, dare I say, your favorite day of the week?}
  • In what areas of your life are you settling, where you could be thriving?
  • What makes you feel nourished and rested?

my morning routine

I was thinking the other day about how some of my favorite posts to read by other bloggers are the ones where I get a peek into their daily lives and routines. I have always been so intrigued about the daily details of people’s lives {maybe that’s why I’m a fiction writer!} and something about these types of blog posts always inspires me. Lately I have become super fascinated with morning routines and I’ve spent some time the past month or so trying to tweak my own morning routine to serve me best.

It seems pretty crazy that it took me this long to figure out, but I’ve realized that I am someone who flourishes with structure. I like the IDEA of spontaneity and “see where the day takes me” much more than I actually like it in practice. When I think back to my days in school, I really enjoyed the structure of classes. The clear, concrete schedule made me feel grounded and kept me from getting overwhelmed because I wasn’t trying to do everything at once. In math class, I was focusing on math class. In English class, I was thinking about English. Whereas, when you work for yourself and mainly work from home, like I do, all of that built-in structure goes out the window. I love the freedom of being able to design my schedule, and the flexibility to mix things up… but I’ve come to understand that, for me to feel most productive and centered, I need to plan out a structure for myself in advance. I also tend to be happiest when I follow pretty much the same routine week by week. Without a structure, I flail around trying to multitask and do all the things all the time — and whatever I’m doing, I feel like I “should” be doing something else! It’s my own personal recipe for burn-out.

lake-tahoe-2

One reason I’ve become slightly obsessed with morning routines is that I’ve noticed that what I do in the morning definitely creates a tone, an energy, for the rest of my day. {Although I LOVE Alex Franzen’s piece “Today is Not Over Yet” and it has become my mantra for those days when I look at the clock and it’s noon and I get that panicked feeling of, “What have I even being doing the past five hours??”… Alex’s wise words always help me get my mojo back and rescue the day.}

But, in an ideal world, each and every morning I would set myself up for success by setting the best possible tone for the rest of my day. I definitely notice the difference on days when I make time for what is most important to me first thing in the morning. It makes me feel energized and focused and abundant and ready to take on whatever comes next. Moreover, in my current work schedule, mornings are “my time”… afternoons are when I get out of the house and drive around to various appointments with students. If I waste my mornings, I’m left feeling depleted at the end of the day, feeling like I didn’t do anything for myself the whole day.

My morning routine is a work-in-progress, and it does vary sometimes. Below is my weekday routine, except for Mondays, when I go to my favorite yoga class at 8:30 and hit the grocery store and errands on my way home. Our weekend routine is quite flexible — some days we sleep in and have slow mornings; other weekend days we are up and at ’em early. I think the important thing is finding a routine that works for YOU and your own unique and beautiful life.

my morning routine

My alarm goes off at 6:40—I used to press “snooze” but I have recently conquered the snooze button, and I’ve noticed that when I get up at the same time every day, my body tends to wake up naturally at that time and it is easier to get up. {Though, as I wrote in this post a while ago, something I’ve learned about myself is that I almost always feel tired when I first get up, even when I’ve gotten plenty of sleep… it takes me a few minutes to “rise and shine.”} Allyn tries to be out the door by 7:15 to catch his train to San Jose for work. He’s always up at 6, but I sleep in a little later. I do like to get up before he leaves so we can have a little time together in the morning.

I like to make the bed and then wash my face right when I get up. I used to not wash my face right away, but it’s a small thing that really makes a difference in how awake I feel. Something about a squeaky-clean face says, “Hello world! I’m up!”

I always wake up thirsty, so right away I down two or three glasses of water. Then I drink a glass of this supergreens drink — it looks like sewer sludge but I swear, it doesn’t taste *that* bad.

my green drink

Then I help Allyn get his lunch packed and ready — I often chop up veggies for him to take. He, meanwhile, steeps a mug of tea for me while he makes his own coffee to take to work. I kiss him goodbye and he heads out the door. I always watch him carry his bike down our apartment hallway. He turns and looks back at me when he gets to the outer door, and I wave. It’s a little thing, but it’s a moment every day that I treasure.

As soon as my hubby leaves, it’s my time to par-tay! Haha, just kidding. Usually the first thing I do when he leaves is clean the kitchen.

For some reason, I’ve noticed that I really like starting the day with a clean kitchen. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen throughout the day — since I work from home, I make all my meals and snacks throughout the day whenever the hunger monster strikes — and Allyn and I rarely go out to eat, so most nights we cook dinner at home, too. Often when we get up, there are dishes soaking in the sink, some dirty pots sitting on the stove, or a clean dishwasher to empty. If I don’t get the kitchen cleaned up first thing in the morning, I tend to feel “behind” in the kitchen the rest of the day — I’ll need to wash a cutting board before I can cut up my veggies for lunch, or unload the dishwasher before I can load it with new dirty dishes. When I get the kitchen straightened up and wiped down first thing, I feel like I’m starting my day with a “clean slate.” Something about a clean kitchen makes me feel like I can conquer the world!

clean kitchen

I like to do some stretching and exercises in the morning to get my body moving. My current favorite yoga routine is this gentle slow stretch video by Sara Beth Yoga. Then I do some hip exercises {I’m always tight in my hips for some reason} and some core strength work like squats, push-ups, and planks. I usually spend about 30-40 minutes doing my various exercises and afterwards, I feel both more energized and more relaxed, if that makes sense. I’m excited to get to work, not bogged down with stress!

After yoga and my exercises, my computer time begins. I sip on a mug of herbal tea and eat breakfast #1, which is usually a muffin or avocado toast. I seriously can’t get enough of avocado toast, generously sprinkled with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.

avocado toast

One thing I’ve been focusing on this year — my year of FOUNDATION — is to work on the projects that matter most to me when I first sit down to start my workday. For me right now, that is my novel-in-progress. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the manuscript, and it’s really starting to “gel” and come together. The characters feel alive and I’m excited each day to see what they have to tell me! So right now, as I am blogging about this, it during a lovely creative period when is fairly easy for me to get into the writing each day. But my goal is to have writing time be a focused component of my day even when the writing is NOT going so well or is not so easy to get into. Again, like getting up in the morning, I’ve noticed that it gets easier if I “train my mind” by writing around the same time each day. A good time for me is from about 8:30-10am. Sometimes I’ll keep chugging along to 10:30 if I’m really in the groove. But I do like to follow Hemingway’s advice and always end my writing session in the middle of a scene — a place where I know what is going to happen next. That makes it a million times easier to jump into the writing the next day. If I stop at the end of a chapter, that is just asking for writer’s block when I sit down the next morning.

When my writing time ends, even if it’s been a sluggish day, I always feel happy and proud of myself. I may not always enjoy the process of writing, but I always love the feeling of having written. Sometimes I’ll have those special days where the words are really flowing and all of a sudden it’s been an hour and I’ll have written 1,500 words. Those days make my entire week! But no matter how the writing goes — it’s a good day if I kept my promise to myself and put in the time. No Facebook, no emails, no distractions. Just steadfast work towards my biggest goal. Nothing beats the feeling of looking at the clock and it’s 10am and you’ve already checked off your most important task of the day!

Usually when my writing time ends, my stomach is growling again, which means time for breakfast #2! This is almost always a green smoothie. My favorite blend is a couple handfuls of spinach, some frozen berries, half a banana, almond milk, ground flax and chia seeds, a spoonful of collagen, and a teaspoon of spirulina powder.

I’ll usually drink my smoothie while checking my email {although I don’t always succeed, my goal is to wait until this time of the morning to check it} and taking care of some business-y tasks. Then, I spend the next 2 hours or so powering through work for clients and students. This might entail editing essays and reports; writing copy for a client’s website; creating curriculums and lesson plans for my writing classes; conducting interviews for literary journals {I have one forthcoming in The Tishman Review this summer!}; updating my website; having Skype coaching calls with students; or a thousand more projects. One thing I love about my work is that it varies every day! I feel like I am constantly taking on new challenges, creating new content, learning and growing!

Something that has helped me that might be helpful if you are a fellow structure-lover, is to explicitly write down what tasks I am tackling that day and how much time I estimate each one will take. I do this the old-fashioned way on lined paper, because I love to cross things off a list. I’ll draw a simple grid with the hours on one side and the corresponding tasks on the other, and plan out what I’m going to work on during what time. This has been immensely helpful because it forces me to be honest about how long things will take and how much I can realistically get done in a day, and it also forces me to focus on one task at a time instead of jumping around, trying to multitask, and losing productivity.

When you’re juggling lots of clients and students, it can be easy to fall into a “guilt trap” of never feeling like you’re getting enough done. What used to happen is I’d be working on a report for one client while my brain was freaking out about the lesson plans I still had to create and that other potential client I needed to follow up with, and and and… Does this happen to anyone else?? Specifically writing down tasks and assignments for each day, with corresponding times, has freed me from this mental merry-go-round and has made such a huge difference in my happiness AND productivity!

Aaaaand that pretty much brings us to lunchtime. Thanks for joining me on this virtual tour of my morning!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as inspiration for some free-writing.

  • What does your current morning routine look like?
  • What does your IDEAL morning routine look like? Is there anything you wish you had time for that you aren’t currently doing? Is there anything you are currently doing that you wish you could stop?
  • What are your biggest priorities that will help you make the most progress towards your goals? How can you dedicate more time for these priorities in your day?
  • What is one thing you could add to your morning routine that would make you feel more centered, calm, and happy?

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing year of Wooden challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture

gator

20140706_140656

After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.

Woodsgiving

Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.

a year of Wooden: week 46

Hello there, everyone! Hope your week is going splendidly, and that you are able to take some time for yourself in the midst of the craziness of this holiday season to reflect on what matters most in your life.

We are into our final weeks of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Last week’s challenge was to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. Last week, your challenge was to rainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

After much reflection and soul-searching and self-honesty, here are the three terms I came up with for my own sense of happiness. To me, feeling happy is feeling:

  • connected
  • helpful
  • productive

For this week’s challenge, brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three terms. For example, for me, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

A quick note: I want to make sure to note the difference between happiness and pleasure. Something that makes you happy might not necessarily be 100% pleasurable as you are doing it. And that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. For example, I do not usually feel joyful as I type every word of my daily writing goal. Writing, for me, is happiness, but it is also difficult. Hard work is hard! Work is work! But the right kind of work leads to a greater sense of joy and fulfillment… the sturdy, beautiful kind of happiness that lasts.

Question for the day:

  • What are the terms that you chose for your own individual happiness?
  • What activities could you do to make you feel this way?

a year of Wooden: week 45

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. Last week’s challenge was to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. The thing I disliked most about my daily schedule was realizing that I try to multi-task too much! A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable.

This week, I made a few small, simple changes. First, I went through my inbox and ruthlessly unsubscribed to mailers. I realized there were a lot of messages I’d get week after week and just delete them, or not have time to read them, so I took the time to go through and unsubscribe. My inbox immediately felt more manageable.

The second thing I did was try to change how I tackle email. I am a big procrastinator when it comes to my inbox. I’ll receive an email, open it to read it, but then put off replying. So the email sits there, sits there, sits there, with me maybe reading and it and putting it off once or twice more in that span of time, before I finally open it yet again and reply {while feeling bad that it took me that long to reply.} I know, as I type it all out here, it seems like an insanely inefficient system — I don’t really have an answer for WHY I would put off answering emails in this way, other than I didn’t always feel like answering them and it was always easier to just put it off “till later.”

The simple change I am doing now is this: I read an email, and reply to it right then, if at all possible. Occasionally I will need to wait to reply because I will need to do something or research something or write something in order to reply, but I am finding that 80% of the time I can reply right away. Then the email is gone from my inbox, takes up no more of my brain space, and suddenly checking email becomes way more efficient!

workstation

On a related note, I stopped having my email open constantly and instead try to check it only at certain points of the day. In this way, I am trying to turn email into a specific “task” I complete, rather than a constant drain on my time and attention.

I’m not saying my email habits have suddenly morphed into perfect stress-free productiveness, but I have noticed a definite change in the past week with these simple changes.

If any of you have tips on managing email effectively, I would love to hear them!

This week’s challenge is to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. For some people, happiness might be associated with feeling strong and capable. Others might associate it with feeling needed. Others might associate it with feeling connected to other people. Brainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

We’ll build on this in next week’s challenge!

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • What small change{s} did you make? What was the effect of these changes?

mid-week meditation #10

Hi there, everyone! How is your day going? It’s been H-O-T here in Ventura this week — temps are up in the 80s, which feels super hot here because we don’t have air conditioning! Don’t usually need it with the cool ocean breeze and fog. I’ve been working in the dining room all day, which is the one room in our house that seems to get a bit of a breeze. Dad and I went out for lunch today — partly for a fun meal out, partly for some air conditioning! 🙂 We went to one of my favorite restaurants, a Japanese place called Kabuki. I got two sushi rolls and chowed down on the complimentary edamame. Yum!

sushi

I’m savoring these final days at home with my parents before heading back up to my life in the Bay. The rest of the afternoon was spent working on my novel, visiting my Gramps, and baking a loaf of pumpkin bread to deliver as a thank-you to the local newspaper for running a guest column I wrote a couple weeks ago.

Now Dad’s having a Guinness (he fell in love with Guinness while he and Mom were in Ireland) and I’m trying out a cider I spotted in Trader Joe’s… has anyone else tried pineapple cider?! I’ve never seen it before, so I couldn’t resist. It is a bit of a strange combination — apple-y plus tropical-y — don’t know if I’d get it again, but fun to try something new!

pineapple cider

Before I close up my computer and start prepping dinner, here’s a meditation for you:

small daily choices

Question of the evening:

  • What are small daily choices that make you feel renewed?

a year of Wooden: week 30

Hi, everyone! Hope you had a lovely Labor Day weekend! Dana is visiting and we spent a gorgeous day soaking up the sunshine in Santa Barbara. I love having this beautiful inside-and-out person for a friend!

me and dana sb

Now it’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge… and we’re into a new month, which means a new topic!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).
  • May: Be true to yourself.
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day.
  • July: Love.
  • August: Balance.
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry.

Back in January, we began this year-long challenge with the first item from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: Drink deeply from good books. Now, back-to-school time seems the perfect season to return to this idea of learning, curiosity, and growth through reading. I want to include a special focus on poetry because Coach Wooden had a deep love for poetry. He could recite many poems by heart and even wrote poetry himself. So, for the month of September, we are going to delve into poetry.

But before moving forward, let’s wrap up August’s focus on balance. Last week’s challenge was to try to do one activity from each of your categories every day. My main categories are:

  • Family & friends
  • Work
  • Writing
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

Here are some activities I did this past week: spent quality time with my grandparents {my grandma is healing very well from her hip operation!} and extended family, as well as my parents, sweetheart, and Dana; put in a solid 12-15 hours of editing work; revised 80+ pages of my work-in-progress; submitted pieces to three journals; watched a fun movie and read some of my favorite blogs; wrote in my gratitude journal and meditated; and did lots and lots of walking in the sunshine!

I still want to get back into my yoga routine, which has been difficult with all the traveling I’ve been doing lately. Does anyone have good beginner yoga YouTube videos to recommend, since I haven’t been able to make it to my favorite classes in-person?

It can be overwhelming {not to mention impossible} trying to “have it all” and “do it all”… so last week’s challenge was important for me. I shifted my mind-set away from trying to cram 1,001 things into each day and instead focused on making time for two or three of my key categories every day. Just as I had hoped, over the course of the week I did feel much more balanced and peaceful — and happy! I’m definitely planning to continue this routine.

To kick of the month of September, for this week’s challenge, I am going to read Selected Poems of Robert Frost.

Selected Poems Robert Frost

You can also read many of Robert Frost’s poems online here. Next week, I’ll share my favorite poem from the collection, and I’d love to hear yours as well!

Questions for the day:

  • How did your month of balance go? Did you learn anything about yourself?
  • Who are some of your favorite poets?

P.S. A special birthday shout-out to Holly, who turned 27 yesterday!

me and hol brunch

I love you so much, my dear friend!

mid-week meditation #9

Hi there, friends! Can you believe it’s Thursday already? This week is flying by!

Here’s a meditation that seemed applicable in these late summer days, as we transition into a new season of back-to-school and new beginnings. It’s a quote from one of my favorite books of all time, The Great Gatsby.

summer quote

Questions of the morning:

  • What is your favorite memory of the summer?
  • How do you feel renewed as the seasons change?